Court ruling leaves RIAA without names

Two North Carolina universities won’t have to turn over the names of students who were file-sharing.

Ryan Dionne

Two students from North Carolina universities have escaped the Recording Industry Association of America’s subpoenas.

The students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University were caught transferring songs over their colleges’ networks.

The case was filed in November 2003, said Aden Fine, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, the group that defended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student.

Though the recording industry association filed separate subpoenas, neither university had to turn over the students’ names, Fine said.

This is the third time since November 2003 the association has unsuccessfully subpoenaed names under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Fine said.

One of the failed attempts occurred when a district court decision was appealed to the 8th Circuit Court, which includes Minnesota, he said.

Before January 2004, the recording industry association filed subpoenas under the act, said Jenni Engebretsen, a spokeswoman for the recording industry association.

Because the information was stored on the students’ computers, a statute in the act protected their names, Fine said.

“This case wasn’t about copyright infringement. It was about due process,” he said.

In January 2004, the recording industry association changed how it subpoenaed illegal file-sharers’ names.

Engebretsen said that instead of subpoenaing names before filing lawsuits, the recording industry association now files lawsuits before getting the potential violators’ names.

The association switched the procedure because a court ruling struck down the old process, she said.

The North Carolina ruling won’t affect how the recording industry association pursues illegal file-sharers, Engebretsen said.

“This will have absolutely no effect on our efforts going forward,” she said.

But Fine said the decision might stop the association from using the act to pursue subpoenas from Internet service providers.

“This will hopefully end their attempts to use the (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) to shortcut the process,” he said.

The new procedure is fairer, he said.

“The John Doe lawsuit process can ensure that due process rights are maintained,” Fine said.

University of Minnesota graduate student Saurabh Agarwal said he thinks subpoenaing names is fair.

But he said the University’s network isn’t for file-sharing, so if students get caught, it is their own fault.

Shih-Pau Yen, the University of Minnesota’s Academic and Distributed Computer Services director, said the institution’s network doesn’t have any illegal material on it, but there is so much hardware that makes up the network, it is hard to tell for sure.